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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 8, February 9, 2013

Ominous Portents in Troubled Times


Friday 15 February 2013, by SC


“From Kashmir to Delhi, Intolerance Cuts Across Religious Boundaries”—read The Times of India’s February 5 frontpage headline over two reports of (i) J&K’s first all-girl rock band quitting after online threat by conservatives on social media and the Valley’s Grand Mufti Bashiruddin’s fatwa against the band’s public performance; and (ii) an art exhibition in the Capital coming under attack from a fringe Rightwing group (the VHP’s Durga Vahini) that branded the paintings as ‘provocative’ and ‘insulting’ while threatening to disrupt the show. A similar exhibition at Bangalore was disrupted by the police, under instructions from the ruling BJP, taking away three paintings on the ground that they “hurt religious sentiments”.

Such expressions of what is being referred to as “offence-mongering” but actually signifying plain and simple intolerance that impinges on freedom of expression (which the world’s largest democracy has always upheld as one of its most precious possessions) have been on the rise in the country of late. First, renowned actor Kamal Haasan’s movie Vishwaroopam’s screening was suspended by the Jayalalitha Government on the plea that it could breach peace and pose a law and order problem as some Muslim organisations had objected to it as depicting Muslims in a bad light. Thankfully the State administration subsequently facilitated negotiations between Kamal Haasan and the Muslim groups to reach a settlement with the actor agreeing to seven cuts in the film. Thereafter eminent sociologist and political critic Ashis Nandy was hounded out of the Jaipur Literature Festival for some controversial comments (which prominent scholars, academics and journalists have stoutly defended). Wild charges were levelled against him by influential persons and he was sought to be arrested before the Supreme Court intervened and exonerated him with a mild reprimand. This amounted to a direct assault on freedom of speech. Finally, celebrated writer Salman Rushdie was allegedly prevented from attending the Kolkata Book Fair by the Mamata Banerjee Government falling prey to fundamentalist Muslims baying for his blood because of his Satanic Verses. This was a slur on the city of Kolkata known for its tolerance and hospitality.

These deeply disturbing developments have been compounded by hate speeches—first by MIM leader Akbaruddin Owaisi and then by the VHP’s Pravin Togadia.

At the same time Gujarat CM Narendra Modi’s emergence on the national scene with prominent figures of Hindutva persuasion (including the RSS leadership) and beyond proposing him as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 elections is a matter of considerable concern for all those resolved to defend and protect our secular democracy. Modi has till date not conveyed any sense of remorse or expressed any apology for the genocide of Muslims in the State eleven years ago (February-March 2002). With all his ‘achievements’ in the sphere of ‘development’ there is little doubt that he would be a highly polarising force as he represents the real face of Hindutva sectarianism that militates against our composite culture.

Ominous portents in troubled times.

February 7 S.C.

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